Visitor's bureau controller steals to pay for online poker

On Thursday, Donna Duffer, a controller for the Palm Beach County Convention and Visitors Bureau in Florida, turned herself into the police to face charges of stealing from the bureau. She is accused of embezzling $1.6 million, which she used to fund her online poker habit.

The West Palm Beach 21-page police report was released Thursday detailing the crime which began June 4, 2003, with a $3,750 forged check.

Over the years, Duffer would print checks made out to herself, then forge the two required signatures and cash them. The money went right into an online account that she used to play poker at several different Web sites.

She was able to print the checks both at work and at home, and over time the amounts grew, along with the frequency of how often she printed them.

Wachovia Bank noticed the discrepancies in October 2006, and Duffer was confronted with the theft Oct. 23, 2006. It wasn't until two and a half months later that she surrendered herself at the county jail to face charges for it.

She is being charged with first-degree felonies of grand theft and money laundering over $100,000. Each charge brings a maximum 30-year prison sentence, but because she has no prior convictions, Duffer may only face 69 months in prison.

Duffer has since posted a $30,000 bond and been released.

As a result of her theft, the bureau is facing mounting debt from $925,045.04 in back taxes and retirement fund payments.

The nonprofit hopes to recover some of the money from Duffer as part of her sentence if she is convicted. Other options they may look into include suing the bureau's outside auditor and other former employees, and the bureau has filed an insurance claim.

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